The vicious circle of isolation
Something I frequently notice is the distance from other people, or lack of meaningful human connections people have in their daily lives. Not the superficial interactions; yes we have conversations with people we bump into, or at work – “How are you?” “Fine thanks, you?”. I’m talking about the intimacy needed to actually be able to trust someone with what’s been going on, to share feelings, and to be connected. The lack of these can result in an accompanying feeling of isolation.
Unlike solitude, which can involve a chosen, positive, enjoyable activity, especially for those with introverted tendencies, isolation can be both a symptom and contributing factor of anxiety, depression and agoraphobia, and exacerbate feelings of low self-esteem, loneliness and shame.
How did it get to this point?
Our lived experience clearly plays a big part in how we view the world; sometimes we may well understand exactly why we find ourselves isolated. Other contributing factors can be more subtle or develop over time.
- Circumstances such as old age often come to mind when loneliness is discussed; however, situations such as being a single or new parent, losing or changing a job, or moving areas can also contribute. It’s a growing problem too; recent research from the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust found that among 16-24-year-olds, 72% disclosed they had been having feelings of loneliness or isolation.(1)
- Social anxiety; things such as fear of rejection, criticism, or not having anything interesting to say – all that stuff our little inner voice tells us about being ‘not good enough’ – can have a massive impact on our ability to enjoy life. Maybe we turned down an invitation out at first, a works do, and then something more important. We become the master of having something else on, or being ‘busy’ – despite desperately wanting to be involved – the feeling of dread or panic makes our decision for us.
- Depression can mean we don’t always feel like participating in our regular hobbies or activities. Social invites can feel like something to be endured rather than enjoyed. When we feel out of the loop and are experiencing depression, reaching out to others can seem pointless, or a monumental task.
- The modern way of living can bring us great benefits; however, being able to shop, work and keep in touch from home reduces the amount of social skills we use. Reliant on our technology, we can slowly turn into a passive observer of life instead of a participant. Social media can also portray that the rest of the world is out there having an absolute riot of a time! This compounds our sense of being an outsider.
How can counselling help?
Taking a risk. That’s how counselling sessions may feel to you if any of the above rings true. And the reality is, well, yes – meeting up may be anxiety provoking initially. Your counsellor will understand that you have taken a big step by making contact with them. Sessions don’t offer an instant, magic wand fix that anybody who has suffered from isolation hopes for. However, the reassuring good news is that isolation and its associated factors and symptoms can be worked with.
As the relationship you build together in your counselling work develops, trust grows with it. The vital element of trust can help enable you to discuss whatever you need to without the fear of ridicule, shaming or unwanted advice.
The meetings with your counsellor slowly and surely build a steady foundation from which you can experience interactions and notice and acknowledge your feelings in a safe, confidential environment where you can talk freely and experience empathy.
Being able to recognise your feelings of loneliness – and accepting that it is OK to have them – is the start of a pathway to further understanding, where you can begin to make sense of whatever it is you are experiencing with your counsellor’s help. Even the act of getting out and being involved in a positive social interaction, free from criticism, judgement or external demands, can be beneficial to confidence; with time, it may enable you to replicate that confidence into other areas of your choosing when you feel you want to.
If you feel you can relate to what is discussed in the article above, perhaps making contact by sending an email to arrange a meeting with a skilled counsellor in your area could help you break the cycle of Isolation in a small, manageable and safe first step. “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones” – Confucius
I wish you all the best if you do so.
(1) “Dame Kelly Holmes Trust | 7 Out Of 10 Young People Lonely”. Damekellyholmestrust.org.